Local Leader

by bkrigbaum@solagroup.com

To know that Tom Ashley is the current president of the Capital Region Builders Association (CRBA), a 1,250-member organization, and that he is currently a member of the NAHB board of directors on the national level, or that he once served as the chairman of the CRBA remodelers council for two years, is to also know these positions are a byproduct of only 10 years of dedication to the remodeling industry.

Ashley, the owner of Expand Inc., near Baton Rouge, La., entered the remodeling industry with his brother Randy, focused on growing a fledging business, period. Toward that end he joined an association thinking he would benefit from networking. But he soon found the educational opportunities far more valuable. Expand Inc. is a licensed general contracting firm capable of a wide range of remodeling projects. But in the process of earning three professional designations — Certified Graduate Remodeler, Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist and Certified Green Professional — Ashley learned that a focused approach on aging-in-place and green would best match his skills with the local market opportunity.

The niche strategy worked. Expand Inc. grew from under $300,000 in remodeling revenue during its first few years to nearly $1 million in revenue by the end of 2008. Ashley also acknowledges that some of his growth is based on a spike in repair and restoration work related to natural disasters — Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Gustav in September of 2008.

“The hurricane of ’08 took us through most of 2009,” says Ashley. “It did not allow us to be aware of the recession.”

Ashley’s commitment to carving out a niche as an aging-in-place specialist involved taking work that many remodelers would consider too unprofitable. Through a state-run Medicaid program that helps disabled citizens make modifications to their residences to enable them to stay in their homes, Expand Inc. has learned the ropes of filling out the paperwork and the tight budgeting this work requires.

“One of the reasons we got into the waiver work was that people had seen us on TV,” Ashley explains. “This is a group of people in the community who do not have the funds to do the kind of work that they need. You can imagine the situations — toilets that were not mounted to the floors, no grab bars — so we started to learn more about what was available to them. Then we tried to do a couple of these projects. It is not a really profitable thing for us, but it is a training ground for us and we get to help the community.”

Over the years, Ashley, through CRBA, has led and participated in a number of pro bono community service projects that utilize the company’s expertise in the aging-in-place niche. In 2008, the Capital Region Builders Association was awarded a CADRE award for its work on behalf of a local Good Samaritan who had lost his legs while helping fix a tire for a stranded motorist. That project received funding from the accounting firm KPMG along with $23,000 in donated materials. The firm has also done work on behalf of the March of Dimes, a local Alzheimer’s research group, and the Children’s Miracle Mansion. In the for-profit realm, Ashley’s firm also won a national “Homes for Life Award” this past fall for a bathroom remodel that enabled a couple to stay in their home.

Looking ahead, Ashley sees continued growth in his business and the local association. Much of his marketing for 2010 is focused around green tax credits and aging-in-place projects using a tagline: “Your Quality-of-Life Contractor.” The association will grow, he says, as more contractors realize they risk very little competitively but stand to gain a lot in terms of reducing the liabilities that remodeling contractors continually face.

“We try to help each other by reducing the liability we face every day,” says Ashley. “We try to reduce our liability so we can have a little profit after our jobs are completed.”

Fast Facts About Tom Ashley CGR, CAPS, CGP

  • Company: Expand Inc.
  • Location: Denham Springs, La.
  • Founded: 1999
  • Web site:www.expandwithus.com
  • Employees: Four
  • 2008 remodeling revenues: Approximately $980,000
  • Industry involvement: President of CRBA, 2009; chairman of Remodelers Council, two terms; National Association of Home Builders board of directors; chairman of Louisiana Builders Association Remodelers Council; and service on many local and national committees.

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